The government has spruiked its support of Australia's aviation industry but resisted calls to extend its half-price airfare program in this year's federal budget.

Some 660,000 tickets out of the total 800,000 have already been sold, with Cairns, Hobart, Adelaide and the Gold Coast among the most popular destinations.

There are now 3284 weekly flights along Australia's major domestic routes, about 90 per cent of its pre-COVID activity. At the lowest point of the industry - mid April last year - just 123 planes made it into the air.

The Gold Coast has been one of the most popular destinations with travellers buying half-price tickets.
The Gold Coast has been one of the most popular destinations with travellers buying half-price tickets.

But the budget laid out a grim reality for areas of the tourism sector who cater specifically to international travel, with the papers suggesting borders are likely to remain closed for another 12 months.

"It's quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year," Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

According to budget papers released on Tuesday, "the rate of international arrivals will continue to be constrained by state and territory quarantine caps over 2021 and the first half of 2022".

While last year's Budget banked on a staged return to international travel in the second half of 2021, there are no such firm predictions in this year's one.

But there are signs.

 

 

The total cost of the government's COVID-19 aviation and tourism support package for 2021/22 is $818.9 million, but the anticipated support drops to just $3.8 million in 2022/23.

The Budget includes a number of new initiatives, including the establishment of an International Aviation Support program, enabling Australia's international carriers to retain flight ready crews and aircraft in preparation for the return of international travel.

More planes are now flying to domestic locations since last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw
More planes are now flying to domestic locations since last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Damian Shaw

The government also announced increased support for airports to meet their domestic security screening costs, and a new Aviation Services Assistance Support program which will help ground-handling companies meet the costs of training and certifying 5000 staff across the country.

The Budget also presaged the easing of student visa restrictions for workers in the tourism, agriculture and hospitality industries, although with most international borders still closed, it will be some way off.

Nearly $95 million has been set aside for zoos and aquariums to maintain animal populations

where tourism revenue has been affected by travel and social distancing restrictions.

Transport and Tourism Forum chief executive officer Margy Osmond said the sector had been left high and dry, and workforce shortages had not been addressed.

"The only news that we have from this budget is that the government has no intention of opening borders before the middle of next year," she said.

"This will leave a whole lot of members of our industry, particularly those who are internationally closed with no option but to send up the white flag and surrender.

"We will see more job losses and we will see many, many business failures out of this.

"And when the borders do finally open in the absence of any additional ongoing support, we'll be lucky to have a tourism industry to welcome international tourists back into the country."

 

Originally published as Travel sector faces grim uncertain future